Monday, February 15, 2010

Baylor, Baptists, and Bill Clinton's Nemesis

Ken Starr Should Be Free to Choose His Own Denomination and Church

By now you've heard the news: Ken Starr is Baylor University's New President. The story states that Starr's wife is Jewish (although apparently a Christian as well), and that they plan to join "a Baptist church" upon their arrival in Waco. If they have ever held membership in a Baptist church before (Starr's father was a Church of Christ preacher), no mention is being made of it.

Starr thus makes the second consecutive man to go through the forced pretense of joining a Baptist church in order to preside over my alma mater.

This fact is the context of my plea to Baylor University: Please, please, please, please, please! Stop this farce! If you will no longer require that your presiding officers actually BE Baptists, please stop coercing them into joining Baptist churches upon their arrival in Waco. Doing so:

  1. is a slap in the face to the historic Baptist tradition of voluntarism. John Lilley's past church memberhsip and Ken Starr's soon-to-be church membership represent something of a coerced faith, do they not? Aren't we, as Baptists, opposed to such a thing?

  2. devalues the concept of Baptist church membership (if, indeed, that can be done further). How can it not do so for an erstwhile Baptist university to adopt the ethos of le bon roi Henri?

38 comments:

Stuart said...

Bart,

Forgive me if I end up scattershooting, but I have a handful of semi-related questions that these current events have brought to the surface.

I don't know a whole lot about McLean Bible Church, other than that it is widely considered "conservative" and "evangelical". If you'll grant me that most Bible churches are "baptistic" on most points, would you agree or disagree that this is a bigger deal because of his Church of Christ father/childhood and the fact that this is Baylor? If ETBU were hiring someone who had been attending Scofield Memorial Church in Dallas, do you think anyone would really take notice? Would ABP have written an article? Tim Rogers? You?

Personally, would you rather someone the likes of Ken Starr at the helm of cher alma mater than someone like Dr. Bill Underwood, even though the latter is a longer-tenured "Baptist"? Why or why not?

If you had to choose between only the following two options, would you rather Baylor be known nationally as a committed and distinctively "Christian" university, or that it remain regionally recognized as the "largest Baptist institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi river" but with a "Christian" identity limited mostly to its history and some student life events?

I realize my questions are somewhat leading, and I'm not trying to be cute. Nor am I trying to be argumentative. It just occurs to me that if Baylor isn't going to be a "confessional" BFM2K kind of institution, then the last 14 years (save the Lilly experiment) including this hire represent a positive outcome considering what could have happened in the wake of the infamous charter change.

Tom Parker said...

Bart:

I think given this man's history you "conservatives" would be tickled pink to have him.

Bart Barber said...

You both seem to presume that I am opposed to Ken Starr's coming to Baylor. That's not the point of the post. I think that Starr may be a good hire for Baylor.

To elaborate, I'm entirely comfortable and favorably disposed toward all of Starr's accomplishments to date. I concede to our liberal brethren that his investigation of the Clintons wandered far from its starting place (Whitewater) to wind up investigating Monica Lewinsky's relationship with Bill Clinton. Nevertheless, I thought that he did his job pretty well.

So, I like Ken Starr. His past success at doing other things does not necessarily mean that he will be good at presiding over Baylor, but I'm hopefully optimistic. Building a good relationship with Baylor's liberal faculty will be the big hurdle. We'll see how he does.

My objection is to the fact that Baylor forces these non-Baptist presidents to join Baptist churches. Hire Starr by all means. Then let him go to church wherever he desires.

Bart Barber said...

Wade Burleson's strengths seem to lie in areas other than reading comprehension.

Stuart said...

Bart,

I didn't realize my questions inferred that you were not in favor of the hire. If anything, I assumed you would be a mostly ambivalent, interested observer.

I know how blog world works, so I'll accept your reply without pushing for answers to my specific questions. But I confess that I don't understand the comment about Burlelson.

Bart Barber said...

Stuart,

You said that your questions were leading questions, and I took them to be leading toward helping me to see that Starr's hire wasn't so bad a thing. I was simply trying to make the point that I didn't need convincing—that I already didn't regard Starr's hire as a bad thing.

To answer your specific questions, which I'm delighted to do:

1. I do not regard Baylor as a Baptist university in any real sense. For me, it wouldn't matter what denomination he attended. It isn't the particular denomination of his childhood.

Because for me, the fact that he is not a Baptist is a non-issue (since I do not regard Baylor as a Baptist institution). The sole issue for me is that, having moved on from requiring presidents to hold Baptist convictions, Baylor still insists that non-Baptist presidents join a Baptist church upon their inauguration somehow to legitimize themselves.

Imagine, for a moment, that Ken Starr had been a Baptist all of his life—had never been a member of any other denomination. Let's further imagine that, while being interviewed for the Baylor post, Starr had announced, "You guys need to know that I've grown increasingly uncomfortable with being a Baptist. At this time, I really think that I'm more of an Episcopalian, and I just might join an Episcopalian church upon arrival in Waco." Imagine further that the regents said to him, "Your theology isn't a problem, but you'll have to join a Baptist church in Waco to be our president."

Same thing. That's a problem.

I'd rather have conservative Starr as president at Baylor than anyone on the left wing of any denomination. Being a Baptist is no longer any criterion for me at all in wishing for a Baylor president.

Presented with the two choices that you have placed before me, I would gladly choose the former over the latter.

Again, and this is why I replied as I did at the beginning, yes, I believe that Starr's selection represents a good outcome of those possible after the charter change. Never said otherwise. It was this last question which most led me to believe that you were inferring falsely that I was opposed to the selection.

My point is simply that Starr should be entirely free to attend church wherever he desires.

Bart Barber said...

The Burleson comment was not directed toward anyone here. Wade has posted an error-riddled post linking to this post and suggesting that the "farce" to which I objected was not (as I clearly said) Baylor's requiring non-Baptist presidents to join Baptist churches but was instead the concept that Starr might be able to join a Baptist church.

Ken Starr might, for all I know, make an incredible Baptist, if he were joining of his own volition for reasons not connected to employment. It's just that only the most obtuse could conclude that every new president of Baylor just happens to come to that religious conclusion at just the moment when they are offered the job.

Stuart said...

Bart,

I haven't yet read Wade's post carefully, but your comment makes more sense to me now that you've put it into that context.

Thanks also for answering a little more specifically, though it really wasn't necessary.

Ron Phillips, Sr. said...

Bart,

I agree with your reading comprehension comment. This is just another windmill to which he can tilt at.

You gave sound critique of a hypocritical stance by Baylor that even Aaron (BDW) at SBC Today echoed your sentiments:

I think it makes sense – in terms of integrity – for the Board of Regents to rescind the rule requiring the President to be Baptist. That would signal an honest reflection of what Baylor has become over the years, a distinctly Christian University with rich roots in the Baptist tradition.

I would agree with both of you. Baylor no longer is a Baptist Institution. It is time for her to cease forced Baptist conversions.

Blessings,

Ron P.

Bart Barber said...

Ron,

I've been thinking it over, and maybe the problem isn't with reading comprehension. Maybe somebody sent Wade an email, alleging that I had sent it to them privately, and this email contained words supposedly from me along the lines that he was critiquing in his post.

CB Scott said...

I think Ken Starr was a brilliant man ahead of his time.

He did all he could to throw Bill Clinton out of the White House. At the same time another "brilliant" man did all he could to throw Bill Clinton out of the SBC. "We" both failed.

Had America and the SBC listened to "us" the present world would be a far better place.

Tom Parker said...

It was said--"Had America and the SBC listened to "us" the present world would be a far better place."

Are you sure?? Or is that just your "opinion."

CB Scott said...

Well Tom Parker,

Of course you are right. It is my "opinion."

And as any person who can read and think with any degree of discernment and common sense during the last decade+, it is the most brilliant assessment of reality to date, would you not agree?

Jeff said...

Last time, I commented about Wade on this blog. He called me and recorded me. He appears to make this mistake often, which has led me to doubt his ability to get the story right.

Wade, I'll be in the office today if you think you need to call me. :)

IMHO, Starr didn't go far enough!!!

volfan007 said...

I, too, will be looking with interested mind at how a conservative, such as Starr seems to be, will fit at Baylor. I would imagine that Big Daddy Weave and some of his liberal friends are not too happy about this hire.

On another note, I guess yall are right. Baylor is not a Baptist school anymore, but dont they claim to be? And then, you go and hire a fella to lead your school that's not a Baptist?????

And, another interesting thing to look at will be what Church he joins, and how they handle his joining of their Church.


Oh well.

David

PS. Maybe Don Quixote can fight this battle with this windmill, and save Baylor from conservative, non Baptistism. lol

Bob Cleveland said...

Bart,

You are right on in your thinking. Let him be true to his own faith and not adopt someone else's as sort of an entrance exam.

Uh-oh .. Word Verification: UPURGIN

Here's hopin' you're not.

Tom Parker said...

I would think for some being called an idealogue would be a compliment, it is not like being called the dreaded liberal.

Bro. Jim said...

Bart,
If you're waiting on Wade Burleson to be honest and present the facts, you've probably got a long wait coming. If there's one thing that seems NOT to be Wade's strong suit, it's dealing honestly with those whom he disagrees.

Dr. Jim Roebuck
Pastor
First Baptist Church
Hooker, OK

Tom Parker said...

Bro.Jim:

This is Bro. Tom:

That's a pretty big accusation that you make against WB. Could your provide us examples please?

Sounds to me that you are calling a fellow Pastor not to be one who deals honestly, that is a very serious charge.

Tim G said...

Bart,
Wonderful catch on the church membership issue. Funny how some will ignore that you actually championed the call for Starr to go where he best fits.

How could anyone NOT agree with your statement? Maybe only a person with their own agenda or idealogue.

Ron Phillips, Sr. said...

Tom,

If you can stomach it, read his book and his blog. The evidence is typed by his own hand for all the world to see. It is not an accusation that requires much effort and is easily demonstrable to all but the koolaid drinkers. His latest post linking to this OP with mistruth is nothing but corroboration of Bro. Jim's statement.

Blessings,

Ron P.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Tom Parker,

Before you accuse Brother Jim of something, you need to look at something. He is from Ok, you are from--???. It seems that one who serves in the same state would better prepared to present facts.

Blessings,
Tim

Tom Parker said...

Sure did not take too long for some more of WB's "supporters" to show up.

volfan007 said...

Don Quixote fighting windmills, and saving them!!

David :)

Brother Chris said...

As a Baylor alum (Class of '91) and Baptist pastor, I find myself feeling more comfortable with a Church of Christ member who is conservative than a liberal Baptist leading Baylor. I was pleasantly shocked to hear that someone at Baylor still sought conservative thinking in any form. I've noticed the venomous responses to the Baylor announcement of Starr on Facebook. The liberal tilt, even since I graduated, made me send my daughter elsewhere. I had always told my kids that they had the choice of any Baptist college, but I quietly directed her away from Baylor.

Anonymous said...

Ken Starr was an excellent Solicitor General and an excellent Judge. His legal opinions are very well written.

Interestingly, when I was in law school in the early 1980s, Ken Starr was supposedly on the short list for the Supreme Court, but some groups did not think he was conservative enough, and they preferred Bork and Scalia etc.

I do not know how Starr has done as a University President, and I wouldn't really even know how to judge that with the little info I have.

But from what I know of him, he is thoroughly evangelical. McLean Bible Church is a great church. I am glad that Baylor has someone at it's helm with those spiritual connections.

I don't live in Texas, but I didn't know that Baylor was Baptist anymore. I thought that it changed, like Wake Forest, Furman, University of Richmond, Brown, Colgate etc.

Baylor has a Baptist heritage, and many Baptist ties, but I sincerely do not know if it is a Baptist School anymore.

If it's not, then why does Starr need to join a Baptist Church? If he does so because he wants to, great.

But I agree with Bart, it seems kind of silly for Baylor to have such a rule now.

I heard this story from a reliable source. Mercer elected a chairman of its Board of Trustees a few years ago. I knew him. He was a lawyer who practiced in Atlanta where I practiced at the time. According to my source, after his election, someone brought to the attention of the Board and former Attorney General Griffin Bell, who was either on the board or advised it, that the charter required the Chairman of the Board to be baptized in a Baptist Church.

So, according to my friend, a group of the trustees arranged for this guy to get baptized in some local Baptist Church. It was kind of a joke based on what was reported to me.

I think that Mercer has revised it's charter and pulled out of the Georgia Convention long ago, so they probably don't have to do this anymore.

But it's those kind of anachronisms that Bart is complaining about here.

This kind of stuff goes on in lots of places.

I did not read this post as Bart saying that Ken Starr is not Baptist enough for him to be President of Baylor, and do not believe that is a fair reading of this post.

Louis

Bart Barber said...

Louis,

Baylor has not made a pronouncement that they are no longer Baptist. Rather, I am analyzing them as no longer Baptist since they have hired two consecutive presidents from outside the Baptist fold and are not governed by any Baptist body. It seems abundantly clear that the regents have envisioned a more-than-Baptist future for the university and are pursuing it.

Anonymous said...

Bart:

O.K. Thanks for the clarification.

I still don't see what makes a school "Baptist" if it's not part of the denomination, but I am sure (based on your response) that there are other indicators or official statements, or someting.

As I said, I don't live in Texas, and don't really keep up all that much with Baylor.

Thanks for the response.

Louis

Bart Barber said...

Upon further reflection, I would characterize the relationship between Baylor and the BGCT in this manner: They have divorced, but are still living together because they haven't been able to sell the house yet.

Anonymous said...

Wow. like I said, not living in Texas I don't know the details.

But somehow your analogy makes sense to me. it is brilliant.

Louis

Bro. Jim said...

Bart,
I'll say this for Wade- he will visit with you about your differences. He called me personally and we had a good discussion. Just because we don't agree doesn't mean we shouldn't keep the lines of communication open.
Dr. Jim Roebuck

Bart Barber said...

Yes, Bro. Jim, I recall that phase of our relationship.

Tom Parker said...

Bart:

You say to Bro. Jim:"Yes, Bro. Jim, I recall that phase of our relationship."

Are you saying that you have no relationship with Wade B. now and that you do not trust him?

Bart Barber said...

God bless you, Bro. Tom. If I were to write a 1000-word tract, you could write a 1000-page novel extrapolating all that I meant by it.

Tom Parker said...

Bart:

I ask you:"Bart:

You say to Bro. Jim:"Yes, Bro. Jim, I recall that phase of our relationship."

Are you saying that you have no relationship with Wade B. now and that you do not trust him?"

and you say to me:"God bless you, Bro. Tom. If I were to write a 1000-word tract, you could write a 1000-page novel extrapolating all that I meant by it."

Not nice, Bart. You ask me to be nice and I try to be nice and then you say the above. I asked a legitimate question. Come on, Bart.

I believe you owe me an apology.

Bart Barber said...

You're right, Tom. I apologize. I was being catty.

However, discussing my relationship with Wade Burleson is something that Wade and I should be able to do on our own timing and in our own terms.

Tom Parker said...

Bart:

Thanks, I agree that this is none of my business, it is between you 2
guys.

volfan007 said...

Bart,

Did you see this in the ABP about Starr?

“I accepted the Lord Jesus as my Lord and Savior at the age of 12,” Starr recalled, noting his father baptized him. “I remained in the Churches of Christ tradition through high school.”

“But beginning at about the age of 18, I began having questions about certain practices, beginning with instrumental music,” which the Churches of Christ do not allow in worship services, he said. “As time wore on, I found myself moving into the larger evangelical world.”

So, what Church in Waco do you think will accept a Campbellite baptism? for the washing away of their sins? for salvation? And, he didnt say anything about being baptised at a Baptist Church.

Interesting, huh?

David